His voice shaky and his eyes darting around, Patrick Sharp stood before a bank of reporters and tried to put into words an unspeakable tragedy.
“It’s crazy that the Blackhawks family’s got to deal with this again,” he said.
The Hawks found out moments before warmups prior to Sunday’s 2-1 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins that Steve Montador, a former teammate and close friend of so many in the dressing room, had been found dead in his Ontario home early in the morning. He was 35 years old.
It was less than two months ago that assistant equipment manager Clint Reif, 34, had died.
“It’s sad news,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s been a tough year. He was a great guy.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said it was too “fresh” to process, especially given the timing of the news. He wasn’t sure how his team would react, but pointed out that, unfortunately, “It’s something we dealt with prior.”
“It’s tough, and you get that news right before the game,” Quenneville said. “Teammate. Good friend. A guy that was here [not] too long ago. It’s always sad when you hear something like that.”
There was an outpouring of condolences and affectionate anecdotes from teammates and coaches around North America on Sunday, as Montador had played for six different teams in his 10-year NHL career, posting 33 goals and 98 assists in 571 games.
His most recent stint came with the Hawks, when he had five goals and nine assists in 52 games during the 2011-12 season before a concussion ended his season. After a difficult, yearlong road back, Montador played 14 games with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL before being bought out of his contract by the Hawks. He played 11 games in the KHL last season.
“Rest in peace Steve Montador,” tweeted Joakim Nordstrom, who was Montador’s teammate in Rockford. “You took such good care of me my very first couple of weeks overseas. Forever thankful.”
Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who coached Montador in Calgary and remained close with him, was shaken by the news.
“He was a real popular guy, a real smart guy,” Sutter told the Los Angeles Times. “Obviously had some demons.
In March of 2013, as his return neared, Montador spoke candidly and openly about the struggles he had during his long road to recovery. He said he battled depression — a physical symptom, his doctors told him, of the brain injury he had suffered.
“I know people talk about sports being a microcosm for life, and it’s very true that way.” he said at the time. “I can see why people have a hard time with … being taken away from something they love to do. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety and depression. I’ve had a lot of help to work through that, and I feel like I’ve taken the right steps.”
Montador was only with the Hawks for one full season, but he was their union representative during the 2013 lockout that followed, and left a lasting impression on his teammates. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford couldn’t even talk about it after the game.
“He was a great guy,” Sharp said. “He was a leader in the locker room, did a lot for the union for our team and leaguewide. He was a guy that was friendly with everybody. He was a great teammate. It was really disappointing to hear the news before the game. We’re going to support each other, support Steve’s family and all of his close friends, and get through it.”